It seems to me there is a constant discussion going on among churches about what the role of one group or another may be in the church. Most of the time when we talk about “in the church” we are really discussing what can be done in the church gatherings rather than in the church at all times. I would like to think with you about church roles in a slightly different way today. Most of what the New Testament or Jesus teaches about roles have to do with our Christian lives in the world and what all of us are to be and do as his children.
In Matthew 23 Jesus was with the twelve but was talking to the crowds and his disciples when he said, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see.”
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:1-5a; 8-12).
Lay alongside this the reality that Jesus in the great commission will begin by saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). We worry about our role or someone else’s role but I don’t see tons of people asking to just be a servant and be seen as one of the brothers or sisters in the church. Too often we struggle with the same spirit these religious leaders had of wanting the recognized places for others to see our role as the vital ones. By the way, this wasn’t an occasional idea of Jesus. He made the point to the apostles when James and John wanted the right and left hand spots in the kingdom that the greatest was the servant of all. He made the point in John 13 when he washed the disciples feet and challenged them to follow his example to wash each other’s feet and they would find the real roles that were vital. When was the last time you even heard of someone running for the role of foot washer in the church.
The New Testament is far more prone to the idea of the vital work everyone is supposed to do as part of the kingdom of Christ. I love the teaching found in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. He made the point that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has passed away and all has become new. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. WE ARE THEREFORE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS, AS THOUGH GOD WERE MAKING HIS APPEAL THROUGH US. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
God makes us friends with him all over again even though we have sinned and fallen short many times. He makes us altogether new. One result is that we don’t see people the same way we once did. Paul said he once even judged Christ from a physical point of view but not so any longer. He actually gave to every person that is in Christ and made new the ministry of reconciliation. Does that mean that every Christian is to be a minister? Of Course, it does. We are not only ministers, we have a specific ministry and it is one of reconciliation which means to be made friends again. Our ministry in the world is to lead all we can to turn from their sins to God. But it isn’t just that. It is to build reconciliation among people in the world toward each other. When we see our work as one of dividing folks up and deciding who is right and who is wrong we are missing our ministry by a million miles. Our job is to be ambassadors for the Lord who represent him in the world with the message of reconciliation. God so wants people to be saved from their sins and reconciled to him that he made his own Son to be sin for us, SO THAT IN HIM WE MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. Can you even imagine a more important work or ministry or role to have in Christ than to be his ambassador, carrying his message of reconciliation to a lost world so people around us can be reconciled to God? This isn’t a role to be carried out only in a church assembly or even primarily there. It is a job to be done every day and in every relationship I have as a Christian. I can’t put on my ambassador hat when I start to church on Sunday. It is a life I am to live all the time.
Besides that, when we are by one Spirit baptized into the one body of Christ, whether Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, we are all given the one Spirit to drink. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (I Corinthians 12:13-20). Every follower of Christ is a part of the body given the very gifts God determines for us to have. The very notion that some parts are more important or we are less because we can’t do some things is missing the whole point of what Paul is saying. We are to give greater honor to the part that lacks it. “If one suffers all are to suffer with them and if one rejoices all are to rejoice with them.”
One other huge point on this matter is this, every Christian is a priest of God. In I Peter 2:4-5 it says, “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him- you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Then in verses 9-10 it continues: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Jesus is the great high priest but every Christian is a priest of God. As a matter of fact, we are a royal priesthood. The first and greatest sacrifice we make to God is our own bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God as spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). What is our role in the church? Be priests that are both taking people to God and representing God to the people. We are Christ’s representatives in the world.
Every child of God has an amazing and special role as a Christian, a disciple of Christ. Just think of God calling us his own special people, a chosen people, who have the mission of declaring his praises to those in darkness. There isn’t any bad roles in the church. They are all vital and we need to thank God for the opportunity to be part of that body of Christ.